Flight Tracking

CosmicCruncher

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An on / off hobby of mine has been aircraft tracking using an ADS-B receiver connected to a Raspberry Pi.

With low cost of entry and relatively easy set up, this is something anyone can get involved in. You can stick with a low cost starter setup or really go to town, experimenting with different antennas and positions.

In terms of hardware, here is a basic setup I purchased late last year for my Dad. This is everything you need to get started including a Pi Zero W & ADS-B capable tuner. Only thing to add to this is a power supply for the Pi. Total cost approx. £34.

20201110_205323.jpg


I recommend using one of the Pi models with built in WiFi which makes finding a suitable location for it easier. A Pi Zero W is all that's required although you will need a micro USB to USB A adapter for the tuner. You can of course use a normal Pi 3A or 3B upwards which have full size USB A ports if you already have one to hand. I use a Pi 3A+ for my setup.

When looking at ADS-B receivers to buy there are some choices to be made. You can buy an official FlightAware receiver from The Pi Hut for around £24 - https://thepihut.com/products/flightaware-pro-stick-plus-usb-sdr-ads-b-receiver. Be aware though this doesn't include an antenna which will need to be purchased separately or built yourself.

Personally I grabbed one of the cheap TV tuners from eBay which can be had for around £14 with a basic stick aerial. You will need a tuner that supports the 1090Mhz frequency required to receive ADS-B signals. Here is an example - https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/363411726227?hash=item549d06df93:g:sZkAAOSw0CdgrgVi. Be very careful when searching eBay, ensure the item description specifies 820T2 (Rafael Micro R820T) which is the chip required to receive 1090Mhz. The first tuner I bought despite looking physically identical to the one in the photo above had a Fitipower FC0012 chip which only receives 22 - 948.6 MHz. The PiAware software quite happily detected this tuner, the only sign something was amiss was the fact it picked up zero aircraft. You should normally start seeing aircraft straight away assuming there are some in the sky.

These cheap tuners usually include a basic stick aerial. It isn't optimal for aircraft (or much of anything for that matter :p) and can be modified / replaced at a later date but you should be able to pick some aircraft up in its stock form. Certainly enough to get you going. By far the most important thing is to ensure line of sight to the sky, by a window is ideal although outside on a roof is the optimal location. My own set up is by my upstairs window and I pick up a reasonable number of aircraft within a 100 mile radius. That's with the stock aerial.

For the software I use the image provided by FlightAware. This is a basic Raspbian install with the PiAware software already included. You can also install the PiAware package on an existing setup but for ease I just use the provided image which works out of the box with minimal fuss. You can find the PiAware image along with detailed setup instructions here - https://uk.flightaware.com/adsb/piaware/build.

Once your Pi is up and running and connected to WiFi (check the link above for details instructions on this but if anyone has any queries let me know) you're ready to create a FlightAware account and link your Pi to it so you can start feeding data and seeing your stats on their site. There is also a local map that runs on the Pi you can access via the web interface, this shows your aircraft in real time. Another perk of feeding data to FlightAware is access to their Enterprise subscription free of charge.

I also feed to FlightRadar24 - https://www.flightradar24.com/. This requires some additional setup but if anyone is interested I'll post the instructions. PiAware is the better package to get started though and much more user friendly.

In case you're interested here are my FlightAware stats - https://flightaware.com/adsb/stats/user/mwhite543.
 
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